We are living in scary times right now. Just think, in 2020 we were ordered to quarantine for pretty much the entire year. That alone is flabbergasting to me. And now we’re faced with the vaccine, which I’m not afraid to say scares the crap out of me.
Why? Well, aside from it being a completely new vaccine, I feel it was rushed. And on top of that, I live with a mental illness: bipolar disorder. So, already having a preexisting condition and already taking medications that have side effects, I’m definitely not trying to offset the concoction going on in my body. Yet, my hesitancy won’t ever outweigh my thirst for knowledge. So let’s take this information ride together.
Does the Vaccine Interfere With Preexisting Conditions, Such as Mental Illness?
The COVID-19 vaccine does not interfere with preexisting conditions, though there is still some data missing for certain autoimmune diseases, according to Alvin Mena Cantero, D.N.P., FNP, founder and CEO of Alvin Clinica Familiar, a community health clinic in Houston.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), patients with autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis should be aware that there is still very little data about the vaccine’s safety for them. However, according to Cantero, patients with mental illness shouldn’t have any issues after receiving the vaccine.
“In fact, patients with severe mental illness are at higher risk for COVID-19, so it’s especially important that they receive the vaccine,” Cantero said.
Are People With Mental Illness Considered High-Risk?
Cantero added that a lot of research has shown that people with mental illness are at higher risk for COVID-19. That’s in line with a lot of research that shows that people with mental illness are often at risk for physical illness and premature death compared with the general population.
Does the Vaccine Have Any Known Side Effects?
There are definitely some side effects from the vaccine, just as there are side effects associated with all medication.
“The most common side effects include tenderness at the injection site, slight headache, low-grade fever, body aches, and tiredness. These occur more commonly after the second dose and are a sign that the patient's immune system is properly responding to the vaccine,” said Cantero.
These answers were essential in aiding my skepticism, especially after learning that I was high-risk, which is something I never considered. But my curiosity got piqued more as I asked more questions. My concern switched from myself to other people who could be potentially affected by the vaccine, so I discussed things further with Carl Fichtenbaum, M.D., of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine Division of Infectious Diseases.
Why Was the Vaccine Produced so Soon, as Opposed to Other Research Such as a Cure for AIDS?
According to Fichtenbaum, the pandemic has the potential to lead to the deaths of 10 to 25 million people worldwide in a two-to-three-year time period.
“It has completely disrupted the world economy and most communities,” he said. “This is a clear emergency that requires action. It is always a debate about where to put your resources. It does not diminish the need for a cure for AIDS. By putting significant resources and scientists on this problem, we were able to find an answer quickly.”
Also, many scientists were already working on vaccines for other types of coronaviruses, and COVID-19 brought a lot more resources to it. There are hundreds of types of coronaviruses, and research was already underway on vaccines for some of those.
Will the Vaccine Interfere With People Who Have HIV/AIDS or Cancer?
“No, the vaccine is safe and should work in most persons without interfering with their treatment,” said Fichtenbaum.
Is It Imperative That Everyone Gets the Vaccine? Why? Why so Soon?
Fichtenbaum said that we need about 80% to 85% of people in the U.S. to be vaccinated to really defend ourselves against COVID-19.
“It would be great if we could reach our goal in the summertime,” he said. “The reason is that we want to end the pandemic. By getting many people immune to the disease, we may be able to stop the pandemic.”
Inevitably, I noticed that the more knowledge I acquired, the more I began to reconsider my perspective on getting the vaccine. I also realized that my hesitance came from my upbringing. Growing up, we weren’t receptive to medications and shots that were unfamiliar. This is why I initially struggled with accepting my diagnosis and taking medicine for bipolar disorder. I was raised with the mindset that such medications were a “white thing” and that they needed it because they couldn’t handle the extremities of the world the way we could as Black people, because they weren’t strong enough. However, I had to break those chains of hindered thinking in order to save myself and get the help I needed. Otherwise, perhaps I’d be in a sunken place.
Public health expert Bruce Ragon, Dr.P.H., core faculty in Walden University’s Master of Public Health program, helped me conclude with a few pressing questions I needed answered as the end-all, be-all to my decision-making.
Has Anyone Died Due to the Vaccine?
No deaths have been attributed to any of the COVID-19 vaccines, according to the CDC. However, in the U.S., there have been roughly 567,000 deaths due to COVID-19 itself, as of April 19, 2021, and more than three million deaths from the disease worldwide.
Are Many People Not Open to Getting the Vaccine? What Is the Ratio?
“The statistics vary slightly by group, but some 25% are hesitant to get the vaccine,” Ragon said. “Most cite their fear of side effects or are just taking a wait-and-see position before they commit.”
Different racial and ethnic groups may have different reasons for fearing getting the vaccine, but also, Ragon said, “People with certain political beliefs also may be reluctant to get vaccinated.”
As a takeaway, I think the best thing to do if you’re hesitant like me is to do your research. If you don’t feel 100% sure about the vaccine, look into it for yourself, using reliable sources of health information. As for me, I think that I was given a wealth of knowledge to ponder. I no longer feel threatened by the vaccine, but I don’t feel as though I want to rush to get it done tomorrow either. Now that I am aware and have my most concerning questions answered, I feel better about the entire ordeal. Learning that I am high-risk does concern me, and I will follow up with my doctor as a precautionary mechanism. Your greatest tool is information—let that be the guide to your decision-making, always. I’m looking forward to a pandemic-free world!